Most people, as might be expected, have never thrown a javelin: a slender, spearlike shaft of metal generally about 8 1/2 feet long. It is not something you find around the house, or hanging on a hook in the garage.
But outlined in flight against a blue-gray sky, this streamlined piece of aluminum can generate all the eye-appeal of a formation of Canadian geese; a thing of beauty really.
Recently Tom Petranoff of the Southern California Striders Track Club set a world record by throwing the javelin 327 feet, 2 inches at the UCLA-Pepsi Invitational. Usually records fall by inches, but this one eclipsed Hungarian Ferenc Paragi's 1980 world mark by an astonishing 9 feet, 10 inches.
The 25-year-old Petranoff at 6 ft. 2 in. and 220 pounds is so wide through the chest and shoulders that a word like champion need not be abbreviated should he ever care to wear it across his jersey. Even in high school he looked like a linebacker who had been rustled out of a herd.
While Tom's hands seem a normal size in relation to the rest of his body, there is a kind of fierce intensity about him that extends even to his Fu Manchu mustache. He is someone you would definitely take along if you ever decided to go bear hunting with a switch.
''This record could be the start of something big in javelin throwing,'' Petranoff told reporters after setting his mark. ''A lot of people will be saying: 'If Tom Petranoff can do it, so can I.' Only I still can't believe I did it. My throw came off so relaxed and smooth and it really soared. But the distance was a surprise, even to me.''
Practically all track and field coaches agree that a javelin, traveling faster than 90 feet per second, develops a lift that exceeds its own weight. The point is if the throw is executed properly, the angle is right and the man throwing it powerful enough, the javelin will soar as if supported by some invisible force.
Javelin throwers like Petranoff prefer that the tools of their trade have narrow tails (which studies show contribute to their lift) and create the feeling of perfect balance.